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The Growing Solar Industry Lacks Diversity

Employing close to 3.4 million people worldwide, the solar energy industry is expanding — but its diversity is lacking.
Posted at 6:18 PM, May 25, 2018

The solar energy industry — or more specifically solar photovoltaic, or PV — is one of the fastest-growing sectors in renewable energy, employing close to 3.4 million people globally. Despite a slight dip in employment in the U.S. last year, the industry is growing worldwide. But something is missing: diversity. 

In the U.S., women and minorities are largely underrepresented in the industry. Women, who make up about 50 percent of the population, make up about 27 percent of the solar workforce. Black people, who make up more than 13 percent of the population, only make up about 7 percent of the solar workforce. 

Although Asian-Americans and Latinos fare better in terms of representation, people of color are not necessarily represented as leaders in the solar industry. According to theNAACP, women and people of color are less likely to earn executive wages when compared to white men. Thirty-six percent of white men earn $75 or more an hour, compared to 28 percent for men of color, 20 percent for white women, and only 4 percent for women of color.

But it's not just the solar industry. There is a lack of diversity in various other energy sectors. The utility and oil- and gas-extraction industries are both about 85 percent white

Charles Simpson, an African-American welder's helper for a pipeline company, tells Allegheny Front: "The racism in this job is unreal, is unchecked, and I believe is designed to scare individuals off." 

Cecilia Tam, a female senior energy analyst, talks about the gender divide in the energy sector. She says it's hard to recruit and retain women in the energy sector because of "structural and cultural challenges and the lack of women in leadership positions." 

Studies show that diversity is good for business and the bottom line. According to a Northwestern University study, diverse groups outperform homogeneous groups in terms of performance. A McKinsey and Company study found companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity make 35 percent more on their financial returns, while companies in the top quartile for gender diversity make 15 percent more on their financial returns.

The NAACP is calling on the solar industry to help pave the way for diversity. This year, it launched a Solar Equity Initiative that focuses on environmental, economic, gender and racial advancement. Actress Rosario Dawson partnered with NAACP to help promote the new solar initiative.

Dawson said in a video, "By installing solar in low-income households and community centers while training 100 people with an emphasis on women, formerly incarcerated persons, and veterans, they will also work to strengthen solar policies around the country to shift political power."